Queen was an incredible band and Freddie Mercury was an amazing performer. I feel like I need to say that up front because I am going to spend most of the next few paragraphs saying very negative things about Mercury’s new biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. Where Queen was always experimenting, this is as standard a biopic as you could imagine. The band gets together, they hit it big, personal issues get in the way, rise and fall, yadda yadda. There is nothing wrong with that formula; it has worked for many other music biopics. But Bohemian Rhapsody puts no effort into it. There is no depth or insight into who Freddie Mercury really was. Sure, it plays at giving viewers a peak at the “real” Freddie Mercury, however it is holding so much back it becomes distracting. This comes off like a big-screen adaptation of his Wikipedia page.
The movie covers Mercury from when he met the band in 1970 thru their performance at Live Aid in 1985. During its 129 minute run time (minus the end credits) it briefly touches on many aspects of his life such as his family, his homosexuality and his drug addiction. It introduces them without actually dealing with them.
The most egregious of these is his homosexuality. It was a very significant part of who he was, yet Bohemian Rhapsody is reluctant to address it at all. When it does, I do not think it has any idea what it wants to say about it. I am not going to accuse the filmmakers of homophobia, though I would not argue with someone who wanted to make that argument. I am not sure if they were uncomfortable with it or if they felt like what they had was sufficient, but its omission is indicative of the general problem with the movie and makes it a pretty unpleasant viewing experience.
However, that is not the fault of the actor playing Mercury. Rami Malek, best known for starring in USA’s Mr. Robot, gives it his all as the flamboyant singer. He is especially good during Queen’s musical performances, which is the only time the movie seems to know what it is doing. It is a great performance in a role so confusingly written that I have no clue how Malek could possibly have been able to figure out what his character was supposed to be feeling at any given moment. Did he embrace his lifestyle (massive professional success, sexuality, background) or was he ashamed of it? Sometimes it seems like the former, sometimes the latter. But Malek is never less than completely committed to bringing Mercury to the screen as faithfully as he can.
Since it is a biography of Queen, the best thing about it is the music. Unfortunately, until the last act, we just get snippets of performances. I kept anticipating longer looks at them doing their thing on-stage, but at the most it is a minute or so before Bohemian Rhapsody cuts back to its poorly written story. Finally, during their Live Aid set, the movie stops and watches. That is, without a doubt, the only instance it truly works.
It is a biopic of Freddy Mercury that barely reveals anything about him. It is a look at the rock band Queen that offers no information as to their creative process and only shows bits of them performing. It has no interest in actually exploring his life and is nothing more than fan-service for the group. I do not know what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with this, but I am pretty confident they failed.
1½ out of 5
Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury
Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin
Gwilym Lee as Brian May
Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor
Joe Mazzello as John Deacon
Allen Leech as Paul Prenter
Aiden Gillen as John Reid
Tom Hollander as Jim Beach
Mike Myers as Ray Foster
Directed by Bryan Singer
Screenplay by Anthony McCarten